The National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana Univ. is only three years old, but it is about to take on its second director. MALCOLM MORAN, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism & Society at Penn State Univ., will take over the post in January after former Dir TIM FRANKLIN left for a position at Bloomberg News in July ‘11. Moran comes to IU with more than 30 years of experience in the sports journalism industry, including time spent at USA Today, the N.Y. Times and the Chicago Tribune. All told, he has covered 26 college bowl games, 26 Final Fours, 16 World Series, 11 Super Bowls and two Olympics. Moran recently talked about his new position as well as other trends and topics he sees in sports journalism.
Q: Where do most of the students at the center land upon graduating?
Moran: I think it’s a variety of places. I know there’s one student that I graduated last year who is working for the NCAA and he is producing content both in print and digitally. I know of a student who has an internship with the Pacers, another graduate is working for the Arizona Cardinals' website. There’s an undergraduate who just started this year at the Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. So it’s a combination of traditional mainstream media outlets and digital products that either teams or associations are producing now.
Q: What is the goal of the program?
Moran: One of the core parts of the mission is to provide guidance and leadership for all levels of the industry from high school students to professionals. ... One of the things that reflects that is the effort of building the website. The center’s website really has become a destination in the industry. ... It’s really become kind of the homepage of sports journalism.
Q: How does your experience working with high-profile publications translate into teaching?
Moran: Mainly in two ways. One, because I’ve done a variety of different things for different publications, I can help them anticipate what they’re going to be facing. For instance, when I took that group to London [for the Olympics], I had never gone to an Olympics overseas but had in the United States. I was able to prepare them for the logistical challenges that they were going to face, including exhaustion. Your adrenaline gets you about halfway through the first week and after that, it’s really a grind. There are things that you can do that give yourself the best chance to fight through that fatigue. So there’s that. I can describe the kind of navigational skills that can help them deal with something for the first time. The other thing is that I’ve been able to stay in touch with the industry through my friendships and relationships but also by going to events over the last few years. I know what different places are trying out. I’ve had a front row seat for the whole digital revolution. If a student is going into an interview either for an internship position or an entry level position, hopefully they’ll be able to describe to the person hiring that they’re able to do X, Y and Z across all these platforms. That’s going to make them a more attractive candidate.
Q: Covering a sporting event has really changed in recent years with the advent of social media. How much emphasis does the center put on the use of things such as Twitter and Facebook?
Moran: Being able to navigate through social media, using it effectively and using it in a smart way, but not allowing it to overwhelm you to the point where it becomes a distraction. One of the biggest challenges is, how do you find time to assess if you’re writing on deadline and you’re also tweeting a significant amount of times? When do you have time to take a deep breath and make the kind of decisions that you need to make if you’re not writing about something that’s obvious or certain. That’s the biggest thing. I go to enough press boxes where I see all the time, it just seems like people are spending so much time looking at their Twitter feeds or submitting their own. You wonder when anybody has a chance to think anymore. And so that’s the kind of balance that we want to shoot for. You want to be able to make that informed assessment of what’s going on in front of you and how you should proceed. But you also need to have that social media presence because that’s the way the industry is going and that’s what bosses want.
Q: What would you say to someone hesitant about getting into the newspaper industry because of the direction it appears to be headed?
Moran: Regardless of what happens in the print industry in the next decade and its race to be able to monetize the digital product, the skills that you have to develop to be able to write quickly and effectively on deadline, those skills can be translated into so many different other areas of the industry that it’s still worth developing, even if it doesn't work out in a traditional print place. Having said that, the other thing I tell them is that I sense the pendulum has started to swing back a little and places that have either had extensive buyout offerings or have laid off people are starting to hire again and they’re hiring younger people with skills that can cross platforms. Really for the first time maybe in the history of the industry, a 20-something journalist has a significant advantage over a 40-something journalist. The assumption is that the 20-something is going to have the technical ability that a 40-something does not have. It used to be that the only advantage -- and it was a limited one -- is that the younger journalist would be more cost effective. Now you see people willing to sacrifice that type of institutional memory and experience level to hire somebody who can cross platforms. You see young people either in terms of being able to max out an internship experience or working as a freelancer or being hired full time. They’re getting opportunities in the kinds of places that very rarely would have looked at someone in that age group 10 or 15 years ago. I’m talking about places like USA Today, N.Y. Times, Washington Post, places like that.
Q: Are there any trends in the sports journalism industry that concern you?
Moran: The effect that the speed that comes with social media has in the decision making process. The fact that you have people going with information that either hasn’t been confirmed yet or it can even turn out to be wrong. The most glaring example here would be that last January 21, a number of places including professional organizations started reporting that JOE PATERNO had died when in fact it had not happened. You had a number of places that just went with incorrect information and it wound up being a very embarrassing thing. What concerns me is that on a lesser scale, not necessarily on an extreme level like that, you see that sort of mistake happening much too frequently. What I’ve told students is, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a 2,000-word piece that you’ve worked on for three weeks or 140 characters that you just typed in the last 10 seconds. If your name is on it, then people are going to consume that information. You have to have the same standard. What concerns me is that there has developed almost a risk-reward type of formula in the minds of some reporters and editors where the effort to nail that big story is leading people to make mistakes that they wouldn’t make if they stopped to think about the consequences. And I think there is real risk there. When it doesn’t go well and you’ve made a high-profile mistake, it takes a while to get past that.